THE BLOG
22/09/2015 10:50 BST | Updated 22/09/2016 06:12 BST

How Russia's Destruction of Food Led to the Birth of New Leaders

Today is an important day in Russia: over 400,000 signatures will be delivered to President Putin in Moscow in protest of the Government's destruction of imported food.

Since the enforcement of the controversial law calling to destroy all sanctioned food coming into the country, thousands of tons of food have been burned, melted and bulldozed. Hundreds of videos are on Youtube showing how it was done -- an image so absurd to many Russians and to the world.

While Russia is throwing away food, Europe is desperately trying to figure out where to put and how to feed hundreds of thousands refugees coming in from Syria. If that's not enough, Russia alone has, according to various sources, more than 23-30 million people, who live under the poverty line and literally can't afford to feed themselves.

And this is why Olga Savelieva's petition on Change.org, which demands to repeal Putin's decree on the destruction of sanctioned food and instead give the food to those who need it the most - people who are disabled, children in orphanages, pensioners and others - is so important.

In fact, Olga has started an important food movement in Russia.

Less important, however, is the comment of Putin's Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov, in which he doubted that these 400,000 Russians, who signed the petition on Change.org, were real people. (By the way, Change.org, of course, has one of the most complex security systems that checks and removes fraudulent and spam signatures 24 hours a day. However, in this context, again, it is not so important).

Something else that's not important -- the fact that the Russian authorities have not yet listened to their own citizens' demands to stop destroying the tons of food coming into the country. It is not important, because sadly Russians are used to the reality of not being listened to by the authorities. And it no longer surprises them.

Moreover, the reaction of the Russian officials to Olga's campaign is a pretty standard answer any government would give today to fast and efficiently self-organised civil action. It's a typical response to active civic position of hundreds and thousands of like-minded people, empowered and united in a matter of minutes thanks to the power of the Internet.

And in this context, the only thing that is important is how these people are using their power: what action they will now take to make sure they are heard, their opinions, values and ideas are respected.

In this sense, we, Change.org, could not have given a better answer to Dmitry Peskov's comment, than hundreds of our users posting selfies online with the #IAmReal #DontDestroyFood #Peskov hashtags. Our users have always shared solidarity with each other (in fact what is a petition, if not a manifestation of solidarity?), but at that point they

have become leaders, who actively defend their point of view. And that's incredibly important.

One may try to control the Internet, but you can not control how these emerging leaders, like Olga and her thousands of supporters, come together. How they work together to achieve the changes they care about the most.

Change.org is not just a neutral and open online platform that allows anyone in the world to start petitions about issues they feel passionate about. Change.org is a space where independent individuals take initiative and find support from other in their communities, cities or countries. This is a place where active citizens, experts, journalists and, of course, decision-makers come together to resolve the most pressing issues in their society.

Sometimes it can take weeks. Other times it takes years. But eventually this is how civil campaigns all over the planet win. And Russia is no exception. The sooner Russians start reclaiming their power, the better. The sooner the Russian authorities understand people's power and accept it, the more they could achieve together.